CHICAGO — The second half of the season hasn’t been kind to Notre Dame. Playing Miami has been a chore over the last few seasons.
And on Sunday, getting into a flow was a challenge on a sun-splashed ice surface that was sometimes sloppy.
The 12th-ranked Fighting Irish pushed through it all on the outdoor rink at Soldier Field and plucked an important 2-1 victory over the third-ranked RedHawks out of the elements in the Hockey City Classic.
Mario Lucia and Jeff Costello scored and Steven Summerhays stopped 22 shots for the Irish, who pulled within three points of first-place Miami with four games remaining in the CCHA regular season.
“It’s an important game for us,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’ve been doing OK in last three weeks. … And it’s not like we were playing a light schedule. We’re playing the top teams and we’re playing a lot of road games. Hopefully those things make us stronger for the playoffs.”
Notre Dame (19-12-1, 15-8-1-1 CCHA) won for just the second time in its last 15 meetings with Miami (19-8-5, 14-6-4-4) and for just the fifth time in 14 games since the holiday break.
It did so despite a late charge by the RedHawks, who got a Kevin Morris goal midway through the third period to cut the Irish lead to 2-1.
And it overcame the elements, both in the air and on the rink.
Players wore eye black under their masks and cold-weather tops under their sweaters to handle temperatures in the mid-to-upper 20s. They also had to deal with the lengthening shadows and a number of delays to fix areas of the ice surface.
“I don’t think we ever fully adjusted,” Costello said. “The sun kept moving. It’s tough, especially when you’re skating fast the wind gets in your eyes and your eyes start watering so it’s even harder to see.”
Costello gave Notre Dame a 2-0 lead 8:33 into the third period on a rush off a Miami neutral zone turnover. Anders Lee drove the right wing and put a shot off the right pad of RedHawks goaltender Ryan McKay (26 saves), and Costello slammed home the rebound.
That added to the advantage built by Lucia in the second period after a Steven Fogarty faceoff win and a nice set of moves by Bryan Rust.
Both Irish goals were on fast-evolving plays.
“We kept the game simpler and maybe we did that because of the conditions,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to remember that. We need to play like we’re outdoors all the time.”
Miami fell to 4-8-4 this season when failing to score at least three goals, and it failed to capitalize on a five-minute power play late in the first period and early in the second.
Notre Dame winger Mike Voran’s day ended early when he was slapped with a five-minute major and game disqualification for an offensive-zone hit from behind on Miami defenseman Taylor Richart.
The power play was shortened by two minutes, however, by a goaltender interference penalty to Miami’s Alex Wideman seconds before the end of the first period. Notre Dame’s penalty kill took care of the rest early in the second, allowing only one shot on goal.
“You get a five-minute power play and then you take an undisciplined penalty, it takes you right out of your power play,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “Looking back, that probably hurt us.”
Morris gave the RedHawks some life midway through the third period and just 63 seconds after the Irish took a two-goal lead. His shot appeared to glance off Notre Dame defenseman Stephen Johns before getting past Summerhays.
“That was the type of game it had to be,” Morris said. “It wasn’t going to be pretty so I just tried to put it on net.”
In the end, Notre Dame dictated enough of the game to be one goal better than Miami.
“They took it to us and we just didn’t have an answer for it,” Blasi said. “We were not ourselves because of what they were doing to us.”
The impact on the standings was significant but the setting in the first varsity outdoor game for either program was memorable.
“There’s no college hockey team in Chicago so for all the younger players and family members, this is it for them,” said Notre Dame defenseman Sam Calabrese, from Park Ridge, Ill. “It was great for the community.”